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The nasopharyngeal bacterial flora in infancy: effects of age, gender, season, viral upper respiratory tract infection and sleeping position.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

  • Linda M. Harrison
  • James A. Morris
  • David R. Telford
  • Susan M. Brown
  • Keith Jones
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>08/1999
<mark>Journal</mark>FEMS Immunology and Medical Microbiology
Issue number1-2
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)19-28
Publication statusPublished
Original languageEnglish


The aim of the investigation was to determine the effect of age, gender, viral upper respiratory tract infection (URTI), season and sleeping position on the composition of the nasopharyngeal bacterial flora in infancy. Seventy-two babies, 38 male and 34 female, whose birthdates were evenly spread throughout the year were followed from birth to 18 months of age. From 0 to 6 months nasopharyngeal swabs were obtained once a month in periods without URTI and daily for 3 days during episodes of URTI. From 12 to 18 months of age nasopharyngeal swabs were obtained in the early morning after an overnight sleep and later in the day after the baby had been up for over 2 h. Swabs were obtained in prone and supine sleepers with and without infection. In infants aged 0–6 months URTI had little effect on the nasopharyngeal bacterial flora, but there was a marked effect of age and less marked effect of season and gender. In particular Staphylococcus aureus carriage decreased with age, was most common in the winter months and the density of colonisation was greater in males than females. In infants aged 12–18 months the combination of prone sleeping with URTI and an early morning swab led to increased carriage of staphylococci, streptococci, Haemophilus influenzae and Gram-negative bacilli which are not normally part of the nasopharyngeal flora. These results are relevant to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The combination of prone sleeping and URTI reproduces the nasopharyngeal flora seen in SIDS. Gram-negative bacilli isolated from SIDS cases should not be dismissed as post-mortem contaminants. The features of S. aureus make it a prime candidate for a pathogenic role in SIDS.